Tuesday, October 9, 2012

#18 Meet the Creature

     I don't know why but parent/teacher night is the one time where I really feel like a servant of the public. I figure parents invest a lot of emotion, time and money into raising their kid, the birth alone can kill ya; the least I can do is provide them with an update on how prized possession is doing.

    Over the years I have witnessed all the personality types. I've seen and heard: verbal and physical anger, pleas, consoled crying mothers, heard the lies and felt the frustrations.  In addition, I've been offered bribes, propositioned for sex, asked out to dinner, called names, and had my job threatened by parents.  There are simply too many experiences to mention here so I will tell you about my best and worst interviews:

    My most memorable interview is in my tenth year and with a mother and her daughter. Usually, it is one or both parents, occasionally, the student is in attendance. This particular student is a bright, well adjusted young lady in grade 11, advance English. She is an excellent student and her marks are a testament to her intelligence and hard work.

    Anyway, introductions are exchanged and we sit down.  The mother is middle age, well groomed, polite, and assertive. She turns to her daughter and says "What do you want to know Jane?"  The daughter looks at her mother, then turns to me, looks directly at my eyes and asks, "What do I need to do to improve my grades sir?", then "Where are my weakness'?" They were memorized questions and continued for the full fifteen minutes.  When it's all over the mother stands up, shakes my hand and says, "Thank you very much for your time, it has been a big help to us." She motions to her daughter to do the same. As she follows her mother out the door the student turns to me, smiles and says "See ya tomorrow sir!", "Good night!" It is an excellent example of a mother teaching her child how to perform in a interview setting. I am impressed with the whole interview and think it is a first for me.  Unfortunately, it is also my last.

    The one who speaks first usually sets the tone of the meeting. So, I make a point of being the first to speak during an interview and it is always something positive about the student. However, this technique doesn't seem to matter during an interview in my fifth year.

     It is the mom, dad, and their reluctant son in tow. The dad's body language is very tense and the mother has a worry lines etched into her face. Their son is well behaved and he shows a strong work ethic. However, he doesn't demonstrate the intellectual skills needed to grasp some of the more abstract concepts expected in advanced English. He is passing with a mark in the mid sixties, but this will not serve him well at university application time.

    They sit across from me, the son wedged in the middle, his chair touching the mother's.  His eyes are in avoidance and so is his body language, he looks scared. I look at the parents and present the statistics and personal observations in an effort to explain his mark. My voice is steady and so is my posture. They are both looking at me with blank expressions and I figure everything is going well. Then the calm is broken, dad explodes, "This is impossible!"  He turns to vent on the kid, "Why don't you work harder?", "You are just lazy!" The mother interrupts him in an effort to restore calm. And so, for 15 minutes it rages. Dad yells at the kid and the mother. I am a frozen. I can understand why he is frustrated, angry, disappointed with his sons performance, but the kid is not a failure. I don't get it.

    Several times dad tries to get me on the defensive. Desperate to change the direction of the interview I finish each defense with something positive about the kid. But it doesn't work, he turns on his kid again, and the mother steps into the role of peacemaker. Feeling helpless, I watch the parents argue and glance at the kid sitting there embarrassed, really humiliated by his parent's behaviour. I realize, he goes through this on a regular basis. Finally, it's is over. They stand up, shake my hand, our eyes do not meet, they turn and walk out. We are all disappointed.

    At the time I was inexperienced and the interview rattled me. For weeks I tossed the whole situation around my brain in an effort to figure out what happened. Being in charge is a skill. It is about the politics of compromise and there was no course for it in my university program.

    I usually get home around 9 pm on Meet the Creature night; my voice is tired, and my is head numb. It takes me a couple of hours to unwind, the many faces, words and gestures are etched into my memory. I only deal with kids for 75 minutes a day and my investment doesn't come close to that of the parents.